Economies in Europe and many other parts of the world have been suffering for some years now, but how do these difficult times affect our mental wellbeing? Mental health is a vital component in socioeconomic progress. The shift to a knowledge society underscores the importance of stable mental health for sustaining productivity from the household level to a national scale.
Stable mental health is not merely the absence of mental disorders or symptoms, but can be seen as a resource that supports overall well-being and productivity. Good mental health enables cognitive and emotional flexibility, the foundations for social skills and resilience in the face of stress.
Positive mental health is a state of wellbeing in which an individual is able to realise his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, and work productively and contribute to their community. It is also a precondition to healthy functioning families and relationships.
Economic conditions and mental health
It may not be a great surprise to learn that our mental health is strongly linked to socioeconomic conditions. Job security and steady incomes predict good mental health. Factors such as unemployment, debt and poor housing are significant contributors to poor mental health.
Indeed, these occurrences themselves can also be caused by mental ill health. The vicious cycle becomes more apparent during times of economic uncertainty; combined with higher costs of food, fuel and housing, these factors can cause stress in our everyday lives.
Symptoms of stress can include headaches, palpitations, stomach cramps, indigestion, insomnia, irritability, anxiety and depression. This can often lead to reduced work performance, personal difficulties, breakdown of relationships and families, increased or heavy use of alcohol, substance misuse, reduced social activity and isolation.
Economic crises increase the social exclusion of vulnerable groups, individuals on a low-income and those living near the poverty line. Such vulnerable groups include children, young people, single parent families, the unemployed, ethnic minorities, migrants and older people. Economic pressure, through its influence on parenting and marital interaction also affects the mental health of children and adolescents. During recessions, social inequality in health widens, as more individuals can become prone to health risks in a climate of increased job losses.
Unsurprisingly, people who experience unemployment and family disruptions, have a significantly greater risk of mental health problems, such as depression, and alcohol use disorders compared to their unaffected counterparts. In extreme circumstances, the inability to cope can lead to suicide.
Take care of yourself
So, what can we do to preserve and improve our mental health?
Be active and eat well. Physical and mental health are closely linked. It is easier to feel better mentally if your body is in a healthy condition. You do not have to go to the gym; gardening, vacuuming and dancing all contribute positively. Combining physical activity with a balanced diet nourishes your body and mind, to keep you feeling good inside and out.
Rest and refresh. Get plenty of sleep and go to bed at a regular time each day. Sleep restores your mind and body. However, feelings of fatigue can set in if you feel constantly rushed and overwhelmed when awake. Unwind with a calming activity, like reading before sleeping.
Relax. A balanced lifestyle can help you manage stress better. If you have trouble winding down, you may find that relaxation breathing, yoga or meditation can help.
Fight bad habits. It may be tempting to smoke or drink to deal with stress, but they will only make the problem worse. Look for healthy alternatives instead, such as positive thinking or turning to your faith.
Keep in touch with family and friends. Being around positive people helps divert your attention. Seek out the company of those you enjoy spending time with.
Volunteer. Motivation, both mentally and socially, is a great way to overcome stress. An effort to improve the lives of others is sure to improve yours too.
Ask for help. This can be as simple as asking a friend to babysit, or speaking to your GP about where to find your local community's mental health service.
This article was adapted from its original publication in the March 2013 edition of The Ismaili UK magazine.